Do not be wasteful and extravagant [17:26]

blog Apr 05, 2024

In Sura Israa (17:26), Allah says: And do not squander wastefully.

Reflection: In this verse as in other places in the Quran, Allah [swt] is commanding us not to be extravagant or wasteful.

Islam encourages to be balanced in all aspects of life, including how we spend money and resources. And even, as in this verse, in giving charity. While it is encouraged to use and enjoy the bounties and blessings that we have been given, this needs to be done mindfully and with a concern for the welfare of society, which uses the same resources and of the planet, which bears the brunt of our overconsumption.

Interestingly, there is not a set amount or a clear boundary that distinguishes extravagance from normal spending. The injunction not to be extravagant or wasteful does not relate to the quantity of spending but rather to improvidence or wastefulness. Scholars explain that since all of us have been blessed with differing amounts of resources, and so what is extravagance for one person may not count as extravagance for another.

Buying what we need and using what we buy may not be wasteful but when we keep adding to the hordes of things that we already own and do not use, we do need to ask ourselves if this verse would apply to us.

Also, what might be moderate spending for one with means may well be extravagant for another who spends more than they can afford, or one who has to borrow to fulfill greed or to keep up appearances.

Why: In modern society as a generation of humans, we have more material resources available to us than ever before. And at the same time we also see a greater economic divide than ever before. While one area of the world is starving, other parts of the world squander resources by throwing away more food than can feed all those in need in another part of the world.

In the affluent regions of the North and the West, we find ourselves ensnared in a culture of extravagance and excess—a realm where materialism reigns supreme, fostering an insatiable appetite for relentless consumption. Here, the mantra of "out with the old, in with the new" resonates louder than ever, perpetuating a cycle of disposal and acquisition driven not by necessity, but by the mere arrival of a fresher model.

In this frenzied landscape, technology and fashion morph at a breakneck pace, compelling us to embark on a ceaseless quest to stay abreast of the latest gadgets and trends. Our economies are meticulously crafted upon the premise that individuals will continue to indulge in purchases far surpassing their genuine needs, often stretching their financial means to the breaking point.

Yet, beneath the glossy veneer of consumerism lies a poignant truth: our innate desires cannot be satiated by material possessions alone. We are led to believe that fulfillment awaits us at the end of a shopping spree, only to discover that the void we seek to fill remains untouched by the accumulation of goods.

Additionally, this wanton consumption is happening at a price. The planet is groaning and dying because of the excess of consumption of its inhabitants. So much so that there are not enough people on the planet to take the excess of clothes that we buy and then discard due to disposable fashion and other considerations. The crisis of the thousands of tons of perfectly wearable clothes ending up in landfills is only one example of the result of excess consumption and squandering of resources.

The price to ourselves of the hedonic treadmill and materialistic lifestyle cannot be underestimated. We need to ask ourselves how much time and effort we are spending simply to acquire more things and what the psychological, emotional and spiritual cost of such a lifestyle is.

How: Practicing mindful consumption will look different for all of us. What is important is that we are conscious of what we are spending and why.

We also need to consider the impact that our consumption has on our spirituality and on the health of the planet.

What can we reduce and re-use? What can we do without? Can we take the extra step in composting? Are we squandering resources like water and electricity without thinking?

Let us consider these two narrations in this regard:

Once Imam Jaffar as-Sādiq (as) asked that ripe dates be brought for the people around him. When the companions started eating the dates, some threw the date seeds away. The Imam told them: Do not do this as it is from tabdhīr and God does not like corruption. (This could mean that the date seeds could be used for animal feed or for human benefit and should not just be discarded).

The Holy Prophet (saw) was once walking along and saw his companion doing wudhū. The man was using a lot of water. ‘Why are you wasting, O Sa‘ad,’ he asked. The man was surprised. ‘Is there waste in water of wudhū too’ he asked. ‘Yes’ said the Prophet ‘even if you are beside a running stream.’

Simple way to become mindful:

  • Turning off the water in between the actions of wudhu
  • Switching off lights when not in a room [even in public places and hotel rooms]
  • Going the extra mile with reusing and composting parts of fruit and veggies that we do not consume.



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